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This article was originally posted on LatLong.

The sun was slowly climbing the early morning sky as I roared down the A29 on the back of a motorcycle. The morning was hot and we had been on the road for about three hours.

The roads were in a state of disrepair after decades of civil war. Between the monsoons and mortars, many parts of the highway were seemingly missing. Twisted metal from blown out vehicles littered the side of the road, remnants. We did our best to navigate, avoiding craters left from bombs that had landed in the region.

Two of my traveling companions became anxious and attempted to escape the box I was holding them in. Carrying a box full of rambunctious puppies would have been difficult while walking down a street – let alone while riding a motorcycle. I started playing a perverse game of whack-a-mole. One hand was dedicated to gripping the box against my body. My other hand split its time between pushing the puppies back into the box and hanging on to the motorcycle as we careened down the highway.

This lasted for over an hour.

The road smoothed out as we approached a military checkpoint. My friends and I tensed up; news stories of the military’s atrocities floated to the top of my mind. We creeped to a halt at the checkpoint and half of our caravan was directed to the queue for locals.

My legs were shaking – I’m not sure if it was five hours on a motorcycle or fear of the soldiers. I was called up from the queue and approached grasping the box of puppies with one hand and my navy blue passport with the other.

The soldier inspected my entry visa and muttered some gruff words in a foreign tongue. We locked eyes and he asked me why I was travelling North. I inhaled slowly; humid air filled my nostrils. I explained that I had to get these puppies to my friend’s parents. I dropped the box down to the ground and opened it slowly. I stood holding two puppies as he cracked a huge smile.

Soon a large crowd of men clad in camouflage surrounded the puppies. They were laughing and teasing the dogs. The tension had evaporated.

A few minutes later we were on our way to the North, only five more hours to go.

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Cultural diplomacy – the attempt by a government to win the hearts and minds of foreign nationals – has a long tradition in the history of the world. Akin to an early form of globalization, cultural diplomacy served as a tool of statecraft for ancient civilizations of the Middle East and Mediterranean. Through exchanging ideas, technology and individuals these societies built relations that enabled them to develop and evolve their agriculture, artistry, trade, and diplomacy. Ancient Egypt had the custom of bringing young aristocrats from conquered enemies to Egypt, where they were immersed in Egyptian society and returned to their home with favorable views of the Pharaoh.

Alexander the Great realized that he could not sustain his empire through military might alone. With this vision he built the great Library of Alexandria in Egypt, the largest in the world at the time and a site of scholarly exchanges. The library was built upon Greek culture and learning, and facilitated the spread of Greco philosophy. Greek cities were famously employed poets and philosophers to go abroad as ambassadors.

The seventeenth and eighteenth centuries offered the first example of modern state efforts to promote culture and education beyond borders. France, because of the Jesuits, exported high quality education to North America, China, and India. The Jesuits’ educational expertise was deployed in tandem with France’s colonization, diplomatic, military, and trade efforts.

Through their international education exchanges, Jesuits gained access to highly guarded cultural sites. Mateo Ricci, an Italian Jesuit, was the first Westerner allowed into China’s Forbidden City. He invited to be an advisor to the Imperial Court, and was given this honor due to his contributions to Chinese academia with his conversion of European scientific texts into Chinese. For Ricci, as well as for students today, the importance of academic exchange cannot be overstated.

Like the French, America’s first source of cultural diplomacy was rooted in religion. During the nineteenth century the American Christian missionary movement sought to spread the gospel abroad. This involved imparting Western knowledge with an emphasis on self- reliance at many schools and universities abroad. They founded some of the first universities modeled after the American higher education system abroad: Robert College in Constantinople in 1863, the Syrian Protestant College in 1866, and Peking University in 1989. Peking University (Beijing Daxue 北京大学) is generally regarded as the Harvard (or Oxford) of China.

Many Christian missionaries sponsored converts to obtain higher education in America. One notable example was Yung Wing, the first Chinese student to graduate from an American university. Wing returned to China after graduating from Yale and convinced the Chinese government to send 120 young Chinese men to the U.S. for undergraduate studies.

As international exchange gained traction in America, the international peace movement of the early 1900’s promoted the ideal that mutual understanding could be achieved through educational travel. Under this worldview, foreign education played an integral part in ending all wars. Students and lecturers would serve as ambassadors and return home with a deeper understanding other nations.

In this context, Andrew Carnegie created his namesake Endowment for International Peace with a $10 million donation in 1910. His vision was to “hasten the abolition of international war, the foulest blot upon our civilization”. One of the main pillars of the foundation was the Division of Intercourse and Education, which sought to promote international understanding and cooperation.

World War I hampered Carnegie’s efforts to end all wars. However, the war brought about American government involvement in cultural activities abroad. President Wilson formed the Committee on Public Information (CPI) in 1917 to build support for the U.S. to enter and participate in the war. The CPI is noted for its work in Europe and South America. It coordinated with US Embassies to open reading rooms for US-based journalism; it also organized speaking tours for Americans. Through the Fulbright program these activities continue today.

After World War I the Institute of International Education (IIE) was founded to promote greater understanding between nations and foster lasting peace through international education exchanges. During the 1920s IIE organized student, faculty and teacher exchanges between Americans and Europeans. Stephen Duggan, IIE’s president at the time, persuaded the U.S. government to create a new category of nonimmigrant student visas, bypassing post-war quotas set by the Immigration Act of 1921. By the mid 1920s IIE was administering international fellowships on behalf of the American, Czechoslovak, French, German, and Hungarian governments. Duggan put forth proposals to bring foreign students to the U.S. as a form of foreign aid and a way to promote long-term relations between countries. He asserted, “If ever there were a time when America’s aid was necessary to help sustain higher education in Europe, and in the interest of reconstruction and of the intellectual life, to bring selected students to this country, it is now.” These efforts prompted the State Department to organize a meeting on the topic of educational exchanges in 1936, which ultimately gave birth to US government cultural diplomacy.

With the 1941 entrance of the U.S. into World War II, the State Department moved most cultural diplomacy efforts into the private sector. IIE was granted responsibility to manage the US-sponsored student exchange programs in Latin America. In 1944 the Secretary of State created a new position, the Assistant Secretary for Public and Cultural Affairs. This position marked a monumental shift in government policy towards cultural exchanges, as the government began to embrace these programs more fully.

The end of the war, international educational exchange had become a priority of the U.S. government. The Fulbright Program, America’s premier cultural diplomacy program, owes its creation to the efforts of Senator William Fulbright. He is “responsible for the largest and most significant movement of scholars across the earth since the fall of Constantinople in 1453.”

The Fulbright is America’s premier international fellowship. In your application essay, you need to include discuss why your research furthers the Fulbright program’s goals of fostering international communication and cultural learning. To better understand the program’s goals, it is useful to know the history of the Fulbright program and educational exchange as a whole.

For more Fulbright application tips download my guide.

Fulbright Skills

July 14, 2013 — 2 Comments

I received a lot of questions about the Fulbright when I decided to take the grant, many friends and family wanted to know what this would do for me, how would it help you I couldn’t answer those questions when I took the grant, but after months of living in Sri Lanka I have a sense of how the Fulbright has benefited my life.

The Fulbright has done a lot for me, in terms of personal development. Through the Fulbright I’ve become:

  • more open and honest in my communications
  • able to think outside of my life experiences
  • better at helping students learn and understand their strengths

I’m not positive how these skills will help me in my future, but I’m confident that the past nine months of living in working in Trincomalee will help me in my future endeavors. In his recent commencement speech, Dick Costolo spoke about his life and how he never could have put together the pieces going forward. When he reflects on his computer science degree and his time spent performing standup comedy, it seems obvious that he went on to become the CEO of Twitter. When Steve Jobs gave his commencement speech he cited a typography class as one of the classes that most influenced him – the class was not apart of his undergraduate curriculum. It’s easy to connect the dots when you’ve reached the finish line. It is not easy to see the dots when you’re still finding you way.

 

I was sitting on a verandah, sipping on a cup of coffee, overlooking the main road of Kandy. At the table next to me was a group of girls, pouring through their Lonely Planet and Rough Guide, trying to figure out their next stop along their tour. We started chatting and the asked a curious, but common, question, “how can we get to know the real Sri Lanka?” I’ve been asked this question on several occasions; and I think most travelers seek to get away from the toursits traps and get to know the true essence of a country (at least for a few hours…).

The benefits are incredibly apparent: a true culture experience that enables you to understand someone with a different set of life experiences. Well its surprisingly easy to do this: get out of sterile, isolating situations; throw out that guide book, and make yourself get out and actually talk to people.

It might sound simple, but just speaking to people can really alter the course of your trip. I don’t understand tourists who go around with headphones in listening to music. Riding on buses across Sri Lanka has been one of the best most interesting parts of my time here. When you’re sitting next to someone on a six hour bus ride, there is a lot of time to learn about the country from your travel companion, if you have headphones in the entire way you’ve just lost this entire opportunity. Talking to people on buses has led me to better understand Sri Lanka and its history. I’ve been shocked by what people have shared with me on a public bus, stories of war, survival, and new beginnings.

The Fulbright has been one of the best learning experience of my life, thus far. The past six months of living and working in Sri Lanka have pushed me to be a better communicator and a more open person. This experience has changed me, probably in more ways than I’m cognizant of. As a caucasian male born to a middle class family in New Jersey, I don’t exactly have a lot in common with the son of a Sri Lankan fisherman who has spent the last decade of his life running from war. Despite the differences between our worldview and experiences, I try my best to understand his outlooks. When I first came to Sri Lanka this was incredibly difficult to relate with people here. Sitting in someone’s living room and listening to their stories of life and death can evoke a range or emotions, and I often found myself falling silent – unsure of how to respond. After time I learned to understand and empathize with the hardships people have faced; I became comfortable enough to ask questions and engage in conversations.

If you want to be a better communicator, start by listening.

Yamu

April 22, 2013 — Leave a comment

Yamu means ‘let’s go’ in Sinhala. Yamu.lk is a startup based in Colombo. Right now they’re a city guide, but they’re quickly evolving to cover all things Sri Lanka. If you’re looking for a good restaurant, bar, or activity they’re your source.

Every day about 1000 unique visitors come to the site to find out whats going new in Colombo.

I’ve recently started writing for Yamu, so things have been quiet here on brightful.ly. Check out some of my recent articles:

Its great to have an excuse to get out and visit new restaurants…

New Year

April 11, 2013 — Leave a comment

Sri Lankan New Year is upon us. The stores are packed, buses are crowded, and businesses are shutting down for a long weekend.

The Tamil and Sinhalese New Years follow the vernal equinox, this year they will begin on April 14th. This year I am headed to Nuwara Eliya for New Year, apparently this is the place to be. For New Year there will be horse and car races, flower festivals, golf tournaments, and imported keg beer. All the Colomboites head up to Nuwara Eliya for the holiday.

According to LankaInfo.com, the schedule for New Years is:

“2013 NEW YEAR AUSPICIOUS TIMES IN SRI LANKA

  • Dawn of New Year (Nekath Udawa)

    Dawn of New Year is at 14th April 2013 at 01:29 AM

  • Punya Kalaya

    Punyakalaya is the time which starts 7hrs 05 minutes before the dawn of New Year and ends 7 hours 53 minutes after the dawn of New Year. So the puniya kala for Sri Lanka starts on  13th April at 07:05 p.m and ends at  14 th April at 07:53 a.m.  The first portion of the Punyakala  is allocated for religious ceremonies and the second part is for traditions like preparing Meals. Starting work, transactions etc.

  • Lighting of the hearth 
  • Preparing Meals “Aahara Piseema”
    April 14th at 04:06 a.m
    Auspicious direction is South
    Auspicious cloth Blue Colour
    Prepare a “Kiri Bath” from red rice mixed with Ghee and Jaggery (sharkara)  and sesame seeds (Tala) 
  • Starting Work, Transactions and Taking Meals “Aahara Anubhavaya, Weda Alleema and Ganudenu Kireema”
    April 13th at 10:28 p.m
    Auspicious direction South
    Auspicious cloth Light Blue Colour
  • Applying Oil “Hisa thel Gaama”
    April 15th at 06:41 a.m (Morning)
    Auspicious direction East
    Auspicious cloth White Colour
    Dimbul Leaves for the head and Ambul leaves for the feet
  • Going to work
    April 17th at 07:42 a.m (Morning)
    Auspicious direction South
    Auspicious cloth Light green Colour”

Sterility

March 27, 2013 — 1 Comment

Travel should be challenging. You should be slapped in the face by culture (literally and physically). When traveling you should be surrounded by the locals, and you should eat at the restaurants where no one can speak your native tongue.

I know that this type of travel isn’t necessarily relaxing. I know that a lot of people (my parents included) want their vacation to be relaxing, because their jobs are stressful and they just need a break. I understand it, but I also reject it. Forgoing some comforts affords you a chance to really explore a new place, and a new culture. If you’re lucky you may even start to understand said culture.

Every time I see a tour bus driving around Sri Lanka, I cringe. Traveling around in a climate controlled bus really separates you from your environment. I hadn’t noticed this before, but after months of traveling by bus, tri-shaw, or cycle I had the opportunity to ride in a car last week. The auto was actually cold (I can’t remember the last time I felt that sensation), and it was virtually silent. The ride was devoid of conversation. As I drove through Trinco town I felt strange. I traveled down familiar roads, but they just seemed different. I felt closed off.

I never realized how a mode of transportation could affect my perception of a place. But in my travels I’ve met a number of really great people on mass transportation. The randomness of it makes it all the more interesting, as you never know who you will cross paths with. Being open is the key to really experiencing a place, and getting to know its people.

I recently read a quote from Seneca’s Letters from a Stoic, and I think its applicable to travel:

“Set aside now and then a number of days during which you will be content with the plainest of food, and very little of it, and with rough, coarse clothing, and you will ask yourself: ‘Is this what one used to dread?’”

Part of what I like about traveling is that I get to experience how others in the world live. If that means traveling on a cramped bus or eating with my hands, so be it. Fully immersing yourself in the lifestyle of others can be challenging, but it can also be transformative. It will contextualize your life.

Mid-Phase Review

March 20, 2013 — 2 Comments

On Friday, March 15th the Fulbright Commission held a mid-phase review. All of the English Teaching Assistants, Student Researchers, and Senior Scholars gathered together at the Fulbright Commission’s villa offices in Colombo for a day of presentations.

This year there are a total of 15 American Fulbrighters in Sri Lanka, and the conference provided a great opportunity for all the Fulbrighters to get together and see the progress we have made at this point.

Part of the reason why I enjoy the Fulbright so much is that it has brought together such a diverse group of people.

The five ETAs are spread across the island, and teach at institutions ranging from primary schools to universities. Our instituons are: University Of Sri Jayewardenepura (2 ETAs are placed here), the University of PeradeniyaSujatha Vidyalaya, and I split my time between the Vocational School at Sarvodaya and the Trinco Jesuit Academy.

The Student Researchers, with whom the ETAs have gotten very close, study a wide range of issues: the political economy of the plantations, contingency planning and the ownership of disaster management, gender based violence in Sinhala Cinema, the informal fishing sector in postwar Sri Lanka, the architecture of Geoffrey Bawa, and alternative solid waste management systems.

The Senior Scholars are range from a professional dancer to senior lecturers, their research topics are: the architectural development of Sri Lanka’s forts, transformative dance in Sri Lanka, the climate services of Sri Lanka, and a social science study of village life.

This lecture was the first time that I met two of the Senior Scholars. It was great to get a sense of what they are studying and where their research has taken them thus far. Sri Lanka’s Fulbright program is unique in many ways, one such example is the close relationships between ETAs and Student Researchers. When I attended the ETA conference in Nepal I was surprised to find that many other ETAs did not know the Researchers in their countries.  In Sri Lanka, many ETAs live with Researchers. Since we are a smaller program, we get to have many opportunities for interaction. When all of the Fulbrighters converge there is little distinction between the groups.

Surviving

March 12, 2013 — Leave a comment

He intensely gazes at the sea, looking for signs of fish. Something catches his eye, and he points it out to his son. The young boy is learning his father’s trade. Slowly he wades into the water, stalking his prey. He readies his net and casts it onto the sea. There is tension in the air as he reels in his dragnet, unsure of whether his throw was successful. The reward for his effort is a tiny fish, the size of a deck of cards.

pictures to animation

Just feet from the Farah III I watch this Tamil fisherman work. One month before the climax of the Sri Lankan civil war he fled his village. He has no boat to fish in the deeper waters, as his was destroyed in the final weeks of the war. He has a net and that enables him to survive.

Paper

March 11, 2013 — Leave a comment

Paper, a film by 

  • Based off of the name of this film, what do you think it is about?
  • When in your life do you use paper?
  • Could you use less paper in your life than you currently do?
  • What would your life be like without paper?

My students at Trinco’s Jesuit Academy walked into class those questions written on the board, and I gave them ten minutes to answer before we moved on to watching this short documentary about a newspaper based in Jaffna.

In my four months of teaching, this was hands down my best class. After the video I was able to foster a discussion with my students that lasted nearly half an hour. They talked to me about their media consumption, and why they think its important to be informed. I was pleasantly surprised when they told me that they don’t trust the government run newspapers. I did not expect that kind of open criticism.

Sri Lanka’s education system is not geared towards creating independent thinkers. Notebooks are routinely referred to as copies, even by my students who speak little English. My students, who are among the best in Trinco, were initially frustrated by the questions written on the board. One girl complained, because there wasn’t one correct answer. This sort of open ended discussion is not common in Sri Lankan education. It was a tough class to start, but once the discussion got rolling I was thrilled with where it went.

After the class I reflected on what had transpired, and how a nation’s society reflects on its education system. Sri Lanka has an amazing medical system. Many Sri Lankan doctors leave the country to take positions at top hospitals in London, New York, and Toronto. Medical tourism is growing, as foreigners come to Sri Lanka for quality, affordable healthcare. The education facilities of Sri Lanka are doing something right, if they’re producing such top notch doctors, but medicine is just one factor that comprises a country’s society.

There is a divide in the world’s education systems.The two best education systems, Finland and South Korea, have taken radically different approaches. South Korea’s system rewards students who excel on exams, and focuses on rote memorization. Finland on the other hand doesn’t measure their students for the first six years of their formal education, which begins at 7. Finland’s holistic approach differs greatly from South Korea’s rigorous exam based education system.

While there is merit to both systems, I cannot emphasize how much I value creative education. I feel that my greatest educational achievements are a result of project based learning. My students may not have gotten as much out of the film as I wanted, but it was an encouraging start. I look forward to working with them over the next several months.